Ted Naifeh has tackled worlds of pirates, wizards, witches, barbarians, and princesses, and now is looking to take on superheroics with his upcoming miniseries Heroines, debuting May 1 from Space Goat Publishing.
With only a brief period working on superheroes for DC and Marvel, Naifeh has primarily worked outside the flights and tights genre but with Heroines, the 26-year comics book veteran is looking to take particular comic book hero tropes and instill his own vision into this genre..
Newsarama recently chatted with the Courtney Crumrin creator about this new project, why he felt like it was the right time for it, and the difficulties he had getting it made.
Newsarama: Okay so Ted, you’re finally venturing off and doing your own superhero story. Can you give us the details on what Heroines is all about?
Ted Naifeh: Heroines is my attempt at the all-girl superhero line-up. I wanted to do an alternative to the typical line-up of hot babes you usually see. But at the same time, I wanted to parody a lot of the standard comic book female superhero tropes. So there's a ninja assassin a la Elektra, a She-Hulk, a Dazzler.
Of course, I first conceived these characters 10 years ago, so as far as making a feminist statement goes, the comics landscape has changed. Some of the tropes I'm making fun of may be outdated anyway, but whatever, it's still a good story as far as I'm concerned.
Nrama: Let's go through the roster of this atypical team up. Who do we have?
Naifeh: You got Marcy Madison, my privileged young protagonist who happens to have, in addition to her social advantages, a nifty ability to control light. At first it just manifests itself as flashes of blinding light, but later on she will do a few more interesting things with it.
There’s Raven, the embittered veteran superhero who's just over it all. She's sort of a cross between Catwoman and Punisher, and acts as the book's equivalent of Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon. Just jaded as hell. Like many superheroes, she has one rule: don't make things worse. But that leaves her with almost no options.
Then I got Shatter, the angry ninja assassin. She grew up in an all male ninja school. She's just barely beginning to wrap her head around being a human. But there's this tiny part of her that really connects with the idea of doing good, making the world a better place. But it's sort of like the Tasmanian Devil trying to do yoga. Or Tom Cruise trying to look relaxed. She does everything as hard as she can, teeth clenched, eyes smoking with white-hot intensity. So... she's fun.
Then there's Jones, the seven-foot bald lesbian She-Hulk. She's an A-grade henchman, a top-tier bodyguard to big name bad guys. But she's tired of working for people who end up shooting her in the back to show off how ruthless they are. Of course, she also keeps putting the moves on the bad guys' hot girlfriends. Which might explain how she's become totally unemployable. Like many compulsive players, she's got some self-esteem issues.
And to some extent, there's Thundergirl. She used to be one of the biggest superheroes in the world, inspiring whole generations. She was originally a cross between Wonder Woman and Captain America. This meek little lab rat turned ultimate super-soldier fought the good fight for 30 years. Until she realized that for all her work, her sacrifices, the loss of innumerable friends and family, the world is worse off than ever. So something snapped. And now she's... scary. She's basically become a modern day Conan.
Nrama: Most teams come together under perilous circumstances but your origins are a tad more...contemporary.
Naifeh: You mean how Marcy puts an ad on Craigslist? Yeah, that just seemed obvious. Like, these days, that's how we reach out. A reddit thread, do a Facebook event, something like that. Craigslist just seemed like the natural place to put out a localized APB.
And I imagine Marcy's ad would be funny enough to make "Best of Craigslist" that month.
Nrama: How is the ad worded?
Naifeh: "My name is Marcy Madison, and I'm here to save the world." We're also using the ad for the book's promotional campaign.
Nrama: Why do you think it took you this long to do your own superhero book?
Naifeh: I was busy with other things. Superheroes saturate the market, so I didn't think another one was necessary. Until I started seeing the gaps. The stories left untold. The modern issues left unexplored. Or explored badly.
Of course, the comic book world is starting to catch up. So my book won't be the only one out there addressing this stuff. And the world is a rapidly evolving situation.
So by the time this book reaches shelves, we might have a whole new set of problems to address.
Nrama: When designing these costumes you didn't go with the usual analog route. What did you want to convey with the designs for Heroines?
Naifeh: Partially, they're a part of the parody aspect of the book. But mainly I designed the costumes and the art style itself as an homage to the animated style of the DCAU. I love the elegant simplicity of those designs. I want to capture the kind of iconic minimalism that those shows conveyed. So I designed my heroes to be very simple, iconic looking figures.
Nrama: So who are they saving the world from?
Naifeh: That's a big part of the story. Who is the greatest danger to the world? For starters, there's this guy named Doctor Momus. He's a mad genius inventor with a god complex. He basically wants to live in a world where he gets to do whatever he likes with no one to question him. Kind of a loose cannon.Momus is, of course, the Greek god of satire.
Nrama: How you describe the chemistry of the team?
Marcy and Raven especially are a hoot to write. They seem to come up with their own dialog. The rank amateur know-it-all and the grizzled veteran who's actually seen it all. They seriously get on each other's nerves.
Nrama: To what degree?
Naifeh: Marcy comes at the idea of saving the world with a lot of preconceived notions, stemming from privilege, naivety, and sources of information that are similarly uninformed and prejudiced. She walks into a housing project and thinks that it's biggest problems stem from drug dealers. Raven actually has experience, and knows better. But try talking anyone out of their points of view. Facts bounce right off people. So a lot of their humor comes from Marcy's self-righteous ignorance being immune to Raven's actual knowledge. Yet somehow, they manage to become best friends.
Nrama: I know you've had this for a while now. I remember seeing some of it back at DragonCon a few years ago. What made you go with a publisher like Space Goat?
Naifeh: Well, I'm a pretty loyal guy, and my first thought was to take it to Oni Press. But they'd just did a big call-out to new creators to pitch ideas, and their main caveat was "no capes, no tights." They didn't want superhero stories. But, in my arrogance, I thought "but hey, it's me. My superheroes are different, right?" Well no.
I brought it into the Oni sweatshop and put it in front of James Lucas Jones. He just looked at me, chewing his cigar menacingly, until I slunk away. I was lucky. I heard Andrew Wheeler did the same thing, and James threatened him with a baseball bat. With nails in it. Of course, Andrew would deny this. We're all scared to death of James. He makes the Kingpin look like a giant baby in a little suit.
Pitts: Just to confirm, this is all in jest as you've been long-time friends with James.
Naifeh: Yes. [Laughs]
Anyway, I tried showing it to Image, but they never got back to me. And I'm not one to beg or pester. So one day I'm chatting with Brendan Wright, and he's telling me about Space Goat. Brendan is a freelance editor, formerly of Dark Horse, which is where we first worked together. So he asks if I have anything. I'd already drawn the first issue of Heroines, and made a lot of progress into #2. It was all dressed up with nowhere to go. So I pulled it out, and Brendan took it to Space Goat.
It turned out, Space Goat is actually a bunch of guys that know and love my work. Which I'm not sure is all that common in the comics scene. But they got the book right away, got what I was doing with it, and were all on the same page. They were great. Gave me a bunch of excellent feedback, and geared up to get it on the shelves asap.
Nrama: Did you ever consider self-publishing?
Naifeh: I did, but I don't have the time or energy. Consider, you keep all the profits for yourself rather than splitting them with a publisher. But then again, you spend at least as much time getting the book printed, into the Diamond catalog, and getting the word out about it as you do writing and drawing it. Plus, these guys have experience doing all that, and I don't even know where to begin. I'd be starting from square one, inevitably making rookie mistakes. I'd rather just pass that task off to a partner. As Oni's publisher, Joe Nozemack, often says, it's worth giving up a piece of the pie to someone who can substantially enlarge the pie.
Nrama: Will Heroines be like a mini series or something in the vein of Courtney Crumrin?
Naifeh: Yes, but it'll be eight issues. And I've left room for a sequel. Of course, I'm going to be producing Night's Dominion tome II right on top of it, so the sequel may be a year down the road.
Nrama: Does it feel weird finally dipping your toes into creator-owned super heroes?
Naifeh: Well, technically, I did it with Night's Dominion. Oni didn't want to do a superhero book, so a tricked them into believing they were doing a classic swords and sorcery epic. Don't tell James Lucas Jones. He'd crush my larynx with on the show floor of Comic-Con if he knew. Seriously. The guy can crack Brazil nuts in his bare hands.
But yeah, it's fun and a little scary to dip a toe into territory that the heaviest hitters in the business have made their own. I ain't coming close to the care and craft some of those guys bring to it. Olivier Coipel’s work makes mine look like children's scribbles.
But hey, if that guy Robbi Rodriguez can do it, I can too. Though in all seriousness, as far as costume design goes, his Spider-Gwen kicks the ass of every character I've ever imagined.
I hope I'm taking on the genre in unprecedented ways. Plus, I think there's actually a big value to a limited world, a limited story arc. When people complain that characters never stay dead, stuff like that, I think they're responding to the circular, endless nature of mainstream comics. When they complain that Superman should crush Batman with a pinky, or that Batman, for all his protests, has killed many times, or that Wonder Woman personifies peace in one story but carries a sword in another, they are struggling with the unavoidably ephemeral nature of those characters.
In a way, what happens in any one issue of a Captain America comic doesn't matter, because it will be undone in later comics. No matter how good the Winter Soldier story was at first, it become impossibly convoluted over the years that followed, until the simple purity of the original tale was lost.
So to me, sticking with one creator, one simple, tightly controlled set of arcs, carries a value all its own.
Nrama: Okay, so lastly, what is the message behind Heroines if there is one?
Naifeh: It's not for me to say what the message ultimately is. That's the reader's job. But for what it's worth, it might be about the millennial generation, and what happens when they take the reins of the world. Interpret that as you will.